The PR BlogPR TrendsBusiness ShiftsThe Power of Free PR: Going From Being Influencers to Business Leaders

The Power of Free PR: Going From Being Influencers to Business Leaders

Traditional businesses might be staring into an avalanche.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

More are going from being influ­en­cers to busi­ness leaders.

In 2020, I argued that influ­en­cer-star­ted busi­nesses would emerge as real threats to tra­di­tion­al businesses. 

I got push­back; few agreed with my analysis.

Was I wrong? In this post, I want to revis­it my ini­tial ana­lys­is and fur­ther invest­ig­ate how the busi­ness land­scape evolves.

Here we go:

The Advantage: Free Marketing and PR

Back in 2020, my main argu­ment was that influ­en­cer-star­ted busi­nesses would have one main advantage:

The advant­age of influ­en­cer-star­ted busi­nesses: Free mar­ket­ing and excel­lent PR with an exist­ing niche audi­ence are decis­ive advant­ages for any com­pet­it­ive venture.

Read also: Influencer Marketing is A‑Changing

I argued that the mar­ket­ing- and PR advant­age would be so prom­in­ent that influ­en­cer-star­ted busi­nesses would soon begin to chal­lenge tra­di­tion­al busi­nesses, even glob­al power­houses like McDonald’s.

The push­back argu­ment was that influ­en­cers couldn’t chal­lenge tra­di­tion­al busi­nesses due to their lack of cor­por­ate pro­fi­ciency. Scaling a busi­ness is not easy.

The con­sensus seemed clear: “Influencer-star­ted busi­nesses will con­tin­ue to pop up and be inter­est­ing, but… in no way will they be able to chal­lenge tra­di­tion­al megabrands.”

PR Case Study: MrBeast Burgers

Later in 2020, the fam­ous Youtuber MrBeast (Jimmy Donaldson) opened MrBeast Burgers, a vir­tu­al res­taur­ant. A vir­tu­al res­taur­ant means you can order from the MrBeast Burger’s menu via vari­ous apps, and oth­er exist­ing res­taur­ants (“ghost kit­chens”) will ful­fil your order. 1MrBeast. (2023, January 12). In Wikipedia. 2MrBeast Burger. (2023, January 13). In Wikipedia.

The suc­cess was massive des­pite (or thanks to) the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic, and the extra rev­en­ue saved many fast-food res­taur­ants. Today, the menu can be ordered from 300+ loc­a­tions in the USA, Canada, the UK, and oth­er places worldwide.

It took Beast Burger three months to sell 1 mil­lion ham­burgers. In late 2022, the brand opened its first phys­ic­al res­taur­ant in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Ten thou­sand people showed up, and they man­aged to serve a record-break­ing 6,212 bur­gers on open­ing day. 3

MrBeast Burgers is still a far cry from pos­ing a real chal­lenge to a glob­al brand like McDonald’s. The ques­tion is: will it ever?

The Slight Edge: The Overall Experience

What could chal­lenge a mega­brand like McDonald’s?

Let’s cla­ri­fy: it’s not decided by one thing, like the taste. McDonald’s is great in many ways, but most bur­ger lov­ers will attest to the simple fact that McDonald’s isn’t renowned for serving the best-tast­ing bur­gers in the world.

McDonald’s has many advant­ages. I don’t know which advant­ages allow them to dom­in­ate their mar­ket. I know that when you com­bine the pos­it­ives and the neg­at­ives into a sin­gu­lar brand exper­i­ence, McDonald’s is a pop­u­lar enough choice to rule the world of fast-food bur­ger restaurants.

But this is also why MrBeast Burgers doesn’t have to make bet­ter bur­gers to chal­lenge McDonald’s. They only have to be the slightly more pop­u­lar choice over­all, par­tic­u­larly whenev­er they open up a phys­ic­al loc­a­tion next to a McDonald’s. 3The bene­fits of suc­cess are rarely evenly dis­trib­uted; it’s the nat­ur­al out­come of the power-law dis­tri­bu­tion.

And since it’s not down to one single thing, like the taste, price, size, avail­ab­il­ity, or qual­ity, I’m arguing that influ­en­cer-star­ted brands will have a reas­on­able shot at con­tend­ing even with glob­al mega­brands — at least when it comes to a cru­cial com­pon­ent: the over­all experience.

And this is where the ana­lys­is of influ­en­cer-star­ted busi­nesses gets interesting.

An Audience Isn’t Something You Buy

Influencer-star­ted busi­nesses have the advant­age of free mar­ket­ing and PR. But they also have the advant­age of hav­ing a nur­tured brand com­munity.

This means that influ­en­cer-star­ted busi­nesses are in a favour­able pos­i­tion when it comes to one par­tic­u­lar expertise:

How to cre­ate exper­i­ences that audi­ences seek.

Influencers might not be well-versed in run­ning or scal­ing busi­nesses — yet. But they are mas­ters in tail­or­ing exper­i­ences and nur­tur­ing audi­ence relationships.

Or put in oth­er words:

MrBeast has a bet­ter shot at improv­ing the McDonald’s exper­i­ence than McDonald’s has at improv­ing the MrBeast experience.

MrBeast can lever­age his enorm­ous fame to hire armies of people from the res­taur­ant busi­ness. But McDonald’s can nev­er hire someone that con­stantly can churn out videos aver­aging 100M views on YouTube.

Will MrBeast Burgers chal­lenge McDonald’s?
Well, that’s not the point.

From Influencers to Business Leaders

Do I think that MrBeast Burgers will be able to chal­lenge McDonald’s? For that to hap­pen, so many more things must go MrBeast’s way that the pro­spect of it ever hap­pen­ing must be deemed highly unlikely.

I’m the first to admit that the odds don’t favour MrBeast Burgers.

But I think influ­en­cers will con­tin­ue to launch more and more busi­nesses — MrBeast Burgers is just one of the thou­sands of ser­i­ous attempts to come. 

And influ­en­cer-star­ted enter­prises will become increas­ingly more prom­in­ent threats to tra­di­tion­al businesses. 

In 2022, Joakim Lundell, argu­ably the most prom­in­ent social media influ­en­cer in Sweden, pro­duced a low-budget hor­ror movie that became the highest-gross­ing Swedish film ever in its genre and went straight to num­ber one — with almost half of the tick­ets for the open­ing week­end sold in advance. 4Feed (film). (2022, December 26). In Wikipedia.

Had Lundell ever pro­duced a movie before? No. Does he know what kind of exper­i­ence Swedish hor­ror fans are look­ing for? He does.

Four Business Advantages of Influencers

I would even go so far as to push my argu­ment to its limit:

Passionate niche audi­ences might find tomorrow’s busi­ness lead­ers bet­ter than cor­por­ate pro­mo­tion systems.

Having seen the naked interi­or of hun­dreds of cor­por­ate pro­mo­tion sys­tems through­out my career as a con­sult­ant, I’m not impressed. These pro­mo­tion sys­tems pro­duce bosses, not lead­ers.

This devel­op­ment could grow expo­nen­tially as more busi­ness cases accu­mu­late and more ven­ture cap­it­al­ists get on board. Traditional busi­nesses might be star­ing into an avalanche.

Here’s how I’d sum­mar­ise my argu­ment today:

The first advant­age of influ­en­cer-star­ted busi­nesses: Free mar­ket­ing and excel­lent PR with an exist­ing niche audi­ence are decis­ive start­ing points for any com­pet­it­ive venture.

The second advant­age of influ­en­cer-star­ted busi­nesses is: Influencers are experts at cre­at­ing sus­tain­able and long-term audi­ence rela­tion­ships using per­fectly tailored experiences.

The third advant­age of influ­en­cer-star­ted busi­nesses is: Influencers can copy tra­di­tion­al busi­nesses, but tra­di­tion­al busi­nesses can­not copy the rela­tion­ship between influ­en­cers and their audiences.

The fourth advant­age of influ­en­cer-star­ted busi­nesses is: Niche audi­ences are bet­ter at appoint­ing lead­ers than tra­di­tion­al cor­por­ate structures.

Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing it with oth­er PR- and com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

1 MrBeast. (2023, January 12). In Wikipedia.
2 MrBeast Burger. (2023, January 13). In Wikipedia.
3 The bene­fits of suc­cess are rarely evenly dis­trib­uted; it’s the nat­ur­al out­come of the power-law dis­tri­bu­tion.
4 Feed (film). (2022, December 26). In Wikipedia.
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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